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Letter: Making a mockery of the Trinidad and Tobago parliament
Published on July 8, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

It seems the speaker of the Lower House is working assiduously to make Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament an ineffective institution, an extended gallerying arm of Keith Rowley's executive branch.

In the process, opposition MPs are stymied in their role of representing the concerns of their constituents and presenting alternative policies.

Madam Speaker appears to be playing a major role in extending executive control of what is supposed to be an independent legislative branch.

She allows PNM MPs unlimited freedom to call opposition members "criminals, unqualified attorneys, shameless, corrupt", subject to audits (which appear to be taking forever) while by contrast even the opposition leader is told she cannot quote directly from a headline of a daily newspaper.

What in heaven's name is wrong with quoting the word "scum"?

The balance of cut and thrust debates appears one sided on television as Madam Speaker intervenes repeatedly and sometimes unsolicitedly to tilt the balance.

I am advised that many of the urgent and other questions submitted by opposition MPs are not permitted, or watered down by the speaker. The speaker recently scolded one MP when he proceeded to read the question he had submitted and not her watered-down version.

It is a joke among opposition MPs that "questions" will not be permitted by the speaker if they are likely to significantly embarrass government ministers, especially the prime minister. Like school children, opposition MPs are forced to read only sanitized versions and "Miss" seems to be oppressive, unforgiving and dictatorial in her editing.

The standing orders are so oppressive that MPs cannot publicize the questions submitted to the speaker until after she gives her ruling.

"People do not realize the oppression which takes place in that august chamber,” say many MPs.

On the flipside, Madam Speaker allows the condescending, dismissive and rude responses by the prime minister and his colleagues.

Question time designed to hold the government to account has now become a big joke.

Recently the government's chief whip allegedly hurled unkind remarks to the MP for Princes Town. One would have expected a ruling from the speaker to maintain the dignity of the House. She must have heard it. Instead, in a move that can be interpreted as giving the offending whip a pass, she immediately adjourned Parliament and on resumption, she moved straight to the next Bill.

What is most appalling is the speaker takes on a demeanor of a stern Victorian school-mistress actively monitoring what can and cannot be said.

She interferes incessantly with opposition MPs’ contributions that, in my view, do not overstep the bounds of decency or bring the house into disrepute. She appears to have an angry demeanour and expression when opposition MPs are on the floor.

The balance of her interventions appears on television to favour the government side.

When this same speaker was attorney general, she ruled that wages paid by the state to attorneys could not be revealed in Parliament because of lawyer/client privacy requirements.

I may be wrong but I have heard fees paid to lawyers during the People’s Partnership government being uttered repeatedly in this Parliament by government ministers… and the selfsame speaker allows it!

The time has come for constitutional reform where the speaker must be elected by a three-fifths majority and not by a simple majority as now obtains.

In that way, any speaker will not feel pressured to be loyal to the government in power. They will be more balanced in their perspective, in their utterances and in their demeanour in Parliament.

They will be a creature of the entire house.

Capil Bissoon
Reads: 3028

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